What Is a Casual Cocktail Dress?

Receiving an invitation to an event that calls for casual cocktail attire might be a little confusing. Kind of sounds like an oxymoron, right? Cocktail attire is usually for an evening event less formal than black tie, but not quite business casual. Traditionally, women would wear a short, but somewhat formal dress and high heels. In modern times, the code has more fluidity. Casual cocktail attire is somewhere between cocktail and business casual. Here are some basic style tips that'll help guide you in what to wear.

The Basics

A casual cocktail dress code doesn't mean you have to wear an expensive dress or even heels, but jeans are not appropriate. Separates are perfect in this scenario. A feminine A-line or pencil skirt always looks chic and a bit dressed up. Pair a skirt with a silk blouse or sleek, form-fitting sweater, and add a sparkling statement necklace.

Tailored slacks or slim twill trousers in black or navy are great, too. Balance a more minimalist ensemble, like black pants and a cream blouse, with pumps and statement jewelry to blend cocktail and casual.

The Event

Take the event into consideration before choosing your perfect outfit. A wedding can be a bit more dressy than a dinner party in a private home.

For a casual cocktail wedding, create a polished look with a short dress in a thick knit fabric. Classic cocktail dresses tend to be woven, giving them more structure and a fancier look.

For a dinner party, try a slim trouser cropped at the ankle to show off a great pair of pumps. A sheer chiffon blouse and camisole underneath is subtly sexy and feminine.

The Time of Day

Dressing for an event during the day should always be slightly different than going out after dark. For day, go for bright colors and prints, and choose a patent leather or embellished ballet flat for a fancier feel.

For casual cocktail at night, try a modern midi-length skirt, and you can even get away with dressing it down with a short or long-sleeved T-shirt. Add a statement necklace and kitten-heeled pumps to complete the look.

The Season

Etiquette is important when dressing for an event, but so is comfort. Feel free to dress in layers to make sure you're prepared for anything, especially when transitioning between indoor and outdoor spaces. Keep a light cotton cardigan or linen blazer on hand for summer events so you won't be chilly in an air-conditioned room. Stay cozy in the winter with a tailored coat. Whether a trench or peacoat is your style, invest in a quality piece and have it tailored if it's not a perfect fit. This way you'll still look polished outdoors even if the coat covers your entire outfit.